California suggests no singing and shorter services in guidelines for reopening places of worship

Circles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing are shown at a park in front of Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco, California. By Hollie Silverman, CNN

(CNN) -- The California Department of Public Health has issued guidelines for reopening places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bans on in-person religious gatherings had been in place in California as part of the state's effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the new guidelines, churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship will be allowed to welcome only 25% of their total capacity -- or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower -- to services, including funerals.

"Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of COVID-19," a health department release says.

The guidelines include several other suggested precautions.

Religious leaders are asked to "strongly consider" discontinuing singing and group recitation where the possibility transmission of the virus through exhaled droplets is increased.

Sharing items including prayer books, prayer rugs, and hymn books is also discouraged.

Houses of worship are encouraged to hold outdoor services when possible and reconfigure seating arrangements to allow for six feet of physical distance between households, the guidelines say.

Shorter services, additional meeting times, and reservation systems are also suggested to keep worshipers safe.

The guidance, issued Monday, does not require any religious or cultural worship center to reopen for in-person services and also says that each county must approve the plan before reopenings can happen.

The new guidelines will be in effect for 21 days after a county public health department approves reopening. After the 21 days are up, California Department of Public Health officials will consult with local county health departments to assess the impact of the reopening and adjust their guidance accordingly.

The changes came days after President Donald Trump called for places of worship across the country to reopen over the Memorial Day weekend as restrictions in a few states still prevented religious services from taking place in person.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the original the ban in a ruling over the weekend after a church in Chula Vista sued the state for preventing members from meeting.

Another California church had asked the Supreme Court to block restrictions on in-person church services.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church, represented by the Thomas More Society, filed an initial petition over the weekend arguing that "although curbing the pandemic is a laudable goal," Gov. Gavin Newsom's orders "arbitrarily discriminate against places of worship in violation of their right to the Free Exercise of Religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

When Newsom announced the modified policy, a lawyer for the group said it would amend its petition, but that that its challenge will go forward. The Supreme Court has not yet formally accepted the petition.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Share this article: